On transparency, funding and efficiency

Earlier this year I applied for funding: a call was opened by the European Union and someone told me it was worth a shot for a project related to software forges. My lack of experience writing grant applications was a handicap but I went ahead anyway. I asked a friend if he would agree to apply with me because I felt it would increase the chances of success. I soon discovered that there was no example of grant applications to get inspiration from. Although people and organizations share such documents in private, within their own network, they are shy about publishing them for everyone to see. This was a handicap to get started. In the spirit of sharing, I then decided to be 100% transparent about my own work: not only by publishing the drafts of the grant application but also the discussions with everyone involved.

The grant was accepted and transparency became a core value of the project, from the spreadsheet where all expenses/income are kept to the monthly reports summarizing what was done. Although it is not a very big project, full transparency also means there is a lot of information and digesting it can be very time consuming. However, someone with enough time on their hands could know almost everything, down to the last detail. Including how the money is spent to further the project.

The spreadsheet is one page long and once all expenses below 100€ per month are trimmed, there only are two items: 3,000€ per month (which amounts to roughly 1,500€ per month after taxes in France) for our salaries. And a single income source for the project: the European Union over a period of nine month, from May 2021 to January 2022 included. The work being funded is divided into deliverables and the monthly reports published for the project conveniently help trace what was done on a particular topic. This is on purpose since they are also used to show progress to the European Union. And by reading the reports it is trivial to figure out who did what. Even a superficial analysis shows that I’m the only one working on most deliverables and that I did most of the work on the others.

There are many possible interpretations for this imbalance, one of them would be that some people are more efficient than others in a given context. For instance I would make a very inefficient manual worker, although I would likely be paid the same as my colleagues. Another example, closer to my skills, would be if I was co-authoring a book of fiction with someone (this has been a dream of mine for the longest time). The main author would presumably be a seasoned writer and my contribution would comparatively be very small because it takes me a long time to come up with just a short paragraph that is decently written. But we could agree to be paid the same for this work, regardless of our respective skills. In the context of the project funded by the European Union, it turned out that I was more efficient.

I’ve been told that when people are paid the same they should by as efficient. Or that people should be paid depending on how how efficient they are, which is another aspect of the same idea. But I think it is impossible to expect the exact same amount of work for the same amount of money regardless of the person. What really matters is that there is an agreement between every party involved. I agreed to a 50/50 split the European Union grant when the project started and I’m fine with this agreement, regardless of how efficient each of us is.